Unclear whether team will be buyers or sellers

Anxiety will fill the air in NHL locker rooms across North America over the next week.

In part that's because almost every game is packed with meaning as teams scratch and claw their way into the Stanley Cup playoffs. But it's also because the trade deadline arrives soon. And while most players don't have to worry about being shipped out of town, there are more than enough who could have their lives upended before the deadline Wednesday.

"You see some action going on around the league," Washington forward Troy Brouwer said. "But until something does happen, you can't let yourself be taken away by it."

Up next
Capitals at Sabres
When » Saturday, 7 p.m.
Where » First Niagara Center,
Buffalo, N.Y.

That's because the Caps (15-17-1, 31 points) still believe they can sneak into the postseason. Entering play Thursday, they were seven points out of the Southeast Division lead held by the Winnipeg Jets and four points behind the No. 8 spot held by the New York Rangers. That's a tall order with just 15 games left.

Their fate could be determined over these next three road games -- at Buffalo (Saturday), Philadelphia (Sunday) and Carolina (Tuesday). None of those teams currently occupies a playoff spot. All three are winnable games. Do so and Washington general manager George McPhee may decide to add a player at the deadline. But lose two or even all three and he could instantly switch into sell mode. And that's something that leaves any player nervous.

"Nobody really wants to get traded. Obviously, there's a few guys that probably do here and there on different teams," defenseman Tom Poti said. "But everybody's a little tense, a little nervous. I think our team's no different. We're kind of in the middle here. [But] I think guys are professionals with putting it past us."

The Pittsburgh Penguins, for instance, already have been busy. In just three days, they acquired defenseman Douglas Murray from San Jose, rugged winger Brenden Morrow from Dallas and, in a shocker, star winger Jarome Iginla from Calgary.

Multiple media reports late Wednesday night had Iginla headed to Boston. Instead, the Penguins swooped in at the last minute and now must be considered heavy Stanley Cup favorites. Both Iginla, one of the NHL's most consistent goal scorers and a future Hockey Hall of Famer, and Morrow were team captains, and both have Stanley Cup finals experience.

But that alone doesn't guarantee anything. Pittsburgh entered play Thursday with 13 consecutive wins -- one away from the 14 straight last set by the 2009-10 Capitals, which ranks as the fourth-longest winning streak in league history. That team, too, rolled through the regular season and added multiple players at the deadline in veteran center Jason Arnott, forward Scott Walker, center Eric Belanger and defenseman Joe Corvo. The moves didn't work, however, as Washington was stunned in the first round of the playoffs by No. 8 seed Montreal.

"I've seen teams try that before," said forward Brooks Laich, only indirectly referencing his club that memorable season. "Other teams have loaded up, and sometimes it can disrupt chemistry."